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Conversation with a Retreatant

by Br. Mark Dohle

Conversation with a Retreatant

by Br. Mark Dohle

God doesn’t always bring you the entire truth.

He sometimes gives it to you in pieces, in order to learn.

Regardless, it is the piece that you got today

that will renew your faith for tomorrow.” ― Shannon L. Alde

Being a Retreat-Master (or Guest-Master) affords me the opportunity to meet many interesting people. We do get a wide variety of individuals who come here for retreats. Many (the majority) are Christians from many different communities. We also get those who follow other paths. Some are structured, others more free-flowing. All are welcome.

There was a man here this weekend, with whom I have spoken before in the past. We had the opportunity to talk about how his life was going. When he came here I think about four years ago, we discussed the crossroad that he was at. He was having what I would call a crisis of faith. Well after much thought he let go of his religion, and now calls himself an atheist. He joined a Unitarian-Universalists congregation. In this church, there are all kinds of people gathered under one roof. There are Christians, deists, atheists, Wiccans, and others who can’t find a church that will accept them. I do not know much about this group, but I did learn from listening to him that it can be a place of healing for many.

I do believe that when I think of other ‘groupings’ I can be very guilty of stereotyping, and in ways that are very unfair. As I listen to my newfound friend sharing about his community I found myself intrigued.

I can’t say that I am a fan of the Woke movement. From those who speak in public about Woke philosophy, it can come across as being angry, without mercy, or a sense of justice. It is about revenge. However, I knew on some level that those who speak out in public, more often than not, are extremists. So I believe that there was a level of not trusting those who speak for the movement. Most people belong to the silent majority who like me are getting more and more fed-up with the vitriol coming from both sides.

Let’s call the retreatant ‘Frank’. Frank talked about seeking to make those on the fringe of society welcome, to give them a place where they do not have to defend themselves because they are different from the average citizen. As he spoke I begin to understand that this man was not into making a political statement, or yelling at others, but simply treat others as they would like to be treated. He had a deep desire to help others and wanted them to find a loving community to interact with.

His past served him a very toxic understanding of God. So when he told me that he simply dumped that image, and became an atheist, I could understand why he had to do that. Yet I could see God at work in his life, and by the fact that he was not consumed with anger, but only wanted to help others, I could sense grace at work.

God is free to do whatever he wants when he seeks to bring healing and peace to others. Some may need to wander far afield, yet do they? Christians, well many of them, feel the need, or compulsion, to draw all kinds of lines with others, and to pronounce judgments. I find this interesting when Jesus told us not to. It is not from the Spirit of God but from our fallen nature. The desire to dominate and control, I believe is one aspect of this.

I find it interesting that Christians will seldom quote this verse:

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Jesus said: Love your neighbor as yourself. Well who is your neighbor? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, your neighbor is your enemy.

To love and respect others is not the same as always agreeing with them. It does mean having enough self-awareness to ‘treat others as you would want to be treated”.

I was thankful for our conversation, and hope to see him again. He seeks as we all do and sometimes along diverse paths, but the grace of God knows the heart and is leading those who truly seek to that path that in the end leads to our true home. For Jesus said: “Those who seek will find”.-BrMD

Untrained

Untrained

by Marco M. Pardi

Man is the only creature that knows nothing and can learn nothing without being taught. He cannot speak nor walk nor eat; in short, he can do nothing at the prompting of nature – but yell.” Pliny the Elder. 1st Century CE.

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Curious about the picture? I will try to be brief. Maybe. In the Fall of 1962 I had been handling a military working dog for about 17 months based at Wheelus Air Field, east of Tripoli, Libya. The air field was the weapons training, storage and development center for the Air Forces in Europe and Africa. The dogs were called “Sentry Dogs”, a military euphemism to not upset the locals. They were Attack Dogs. They did not sniff out explosives or drugs; their one mission was to detect and destroy all human life except that of their handler. They could not be rehabilitated and adopted at the end of their service; they were “euthanized” – killed. Becoming a handler was strictly voluntary; no one could be assigned to such duty as the 90 to 115 pound dogs were life threatening, as were the scrub desert areas and distant stations we worked, alone, only at night. The K-9 Unit was the “tip of the spear” in base defense.

The night after I first landed on base, as I was being shown to my K-9 living quarters, we passed an open room where I saw two handlers, one with a large turban-like bandage on his head and the other, shirtless, with a large bandage on his abdomen. I had a moment of joy; I was in the right place. But, it turned out “Tom” had just displayed a picture of his wife and “Bill” had said Tom’s dog was better looking. As the two seasoned handlers engaged “Bill” bit off the entire top half of “Tom’s” left ear while “Tom” bit a large chunk out of “Bill’s” abdomen. Oh, well. In the next room there was only one handler, his roommate “Pedro” being in the base hospital. Dressing for his midnight shift “Pedro” had borrowed a pair of his roommate’s fatigue pants. Unfortunately, they had not been washed, and carried the roommate’s scent. As “Pedro” entered his dog’s darkened kennel the dog all but castrated him before other handlers could dive in and subdue the dog, themselves getting bitten in the process. The dog was fine, but “Pedro” was reassigned after “recovery”.

I had been given my choice of five available dogs. The moment we made eye contact I knew my dog, as I’m sure he knew his human. Yet, the kennel master told me I would not be able to “get in on him” in less than 30 days. I sat outside his kennel and talked with him, and in three days I was able to enter his kennel, lock the door behind me, and leave with only a minor bite. He thought I had tripped him when I hadn’t. After bandages and shots at the hospital I came right back into his kennel. We talked.

Then, ready to begin our relationship, we embarked on our rotations of six nights work and three nights off, hunting “penetrators” from as far away as Egypt on the east and Algeria on the west, with a substantial number from various Libyan tribes seeking to seize control of the country. The King had fled to France and Qaddafi had yet to seize power. The takfiris (Islamic extremists) were there, but not yet out in the open.

The three off days included training sessions, mostly repetitive and difficult in the 120+ degree summers. From the first day I took issue with the harsh and cruel methods employed in training. For example, I refused to use a “spike choke chain”. I refused to slam my dog against a hurdle he wouldn’t jump. I said that using a padded sleeve to encourage a dog to bite was a sure way of getting a dog killed as it trained the dog to go after the sleeve and not the unprotected parts of the man. In fact we did abandon the use of the sleeve, putting a muzzle on the dogs and having them attack unpadded volunteer handlers (illegal by USAF standards, but lives depended on it). I did that often.

In my constant refusals of harsh methods I pointed out the unnecessary dangers to the handlers. During one session a handler using a spike choke chain tried to force his dog to sit on the hot sand. From over 10 feet away I heard the bones crunch as the dog leaped up and crushed the man’s right wrist. Permanently disabled, the Unit unnecessarily lost another handler. But my gadfly persona infuriated the training master to the point where the Unit Chief intervened and suggested we stage a “Dog Show” for the entire base, pitting my training methods against the training master’s. My dog and I were alone against the 19 other teams which qualified for the contest. So, the trophy you see in the picture above. Our 1st Place finish was many points ahead of Second Place.

You may have noticed above that I said I talked “with” my dog, not to my dog. That’s my point (Oh, he finally got to it). There is a distinct difference. But I had not come suddenly to that realization by holding eye contact for the first time with the dog I had selected. Since just before age 5 I had been exposed to dogs and horses and in each case the dog or horse was older than me (Let’s not go down the “dog years” rabbit hole). I did not know the details, but I sensed that each dog and each horse had learned from a broad scope of experiences I could only begin to understand. I sensed they had a wisdom they might share with me. I also sensed that they were capable of doing so only if I learned how to receive it. Thus, my interest in ethology.

As years passed and I experienced more interactions, read science literature especially in ethology, and thought deeply about my learning I became that 18 year old sitting outside a chain link gate talking with a dog who could rip me to shreds in seconds. I had learned: Dogs are predators. They rely on particular senses in order to detect prey, feed, and survive. Dogs hear differently from humans, doing better particularly in the high frequency range. With very low volume sounds they tie with humans in the common ranges and exceed humans in the upper ranges. Dogs process sound differently. They can discriminate pitch in a far wider range than can humans. They can categorize sounds easily, and they can discriminate differences in human languages. For example, my mother had a very shrill and haranguing voice. While vocally praising the handsomeness of one of my Siberian Huskies she reached for him. He bit her. For the Husky, all the information was in the shrill tone. And, while sitting outside my attack dog’s kennel reading a book aloud to him to accustom him to my voice I noticed he was moving around. Turned out that whenever I said, Sit, Down, Watch, or similar words he reacted as if to commands he had learned from previous handlers. But I was not using a “command voice”. My tone was simply reading aloud.

So how do dogs and horses compare to humans? Dogs have roughly 40 times the number of olfactory sensors than humans have. These sensors are of a greater variety, enabling the dog to detect a far greater range of scents than humans can. They can detect week old finger prints and scents 40 feet underground.

A dog is very near sighted, and sees colors as does a person with red – green color blindness. But their nose and ears more than compensate for vision.

Horses are prey animals. They rely on particular senses to detect predators and to inform them of the location of food and water, mates, and friends. Their sense of smell is thousands of times more powerful and sensitive than that of humans. Their forward vision is less efficient than peripheral or rearward vision; their vision is mainly to escape predators. Whether riding or simply standing with a horse, the key to their communication is the position and movement of their ears. And, as you ride they are watching you; their rearward vision is superb. So, watch their ears to determine what they are telling you.

Of course, we can’t stop without citing comparative facial expressions. People are often quick to ascribe meaning to dog expressions, and less so to horses. But, horses display 17 clearly distinct facial expressions (Yes, that horse was sneering at you. Get some riding lessons). And dogs display 16 clearly distinct facial expressions. (Caution must prevail when assuming a Husky is smiling. This mistake is also made regarding other mammals such as porpoises). And, according to research at Ohio State University, humans display 21 clearly distinct facial expressions. We aren’t really that much ahead.

Handling an Attack Dog at night provides lessons far beyond merely staying alive. I quickly learned that watching my dog’s movements was far more important than staring into the darkness. Once I understood that I realized that my dog was always communicating with me, not just to me. By watching him I could quickly determine if one or several persons were out there, in which direction they were moving (if they were) and at what pace. His silent movements, or stillness, communicated his assessment of the nature of the threat, its imminence and its severity. His life and my life were intertwined. From then on, in every other way, whether by the silent hand signals I used or by the tone of voice I employed I sought to bring him into the communication, not just subject him to it. That was the crucial difference between my way of handling the dog and the “training” employed by all the other handlers, those following instructions from the “training master”. I interacted with a person, albeit somewhat different from myself; the others handled furry mechanical objects not greatly different from the various firearms we carried. (We did like to say, A dog is the only gun that can shoot around corners.)

I’m sure every reader has at one time or another heard someone, probably a parent, say, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me.” Yes, we are each sensitive to the various tones of human speech. But it turns out that dogs, horses, and probably a lot of other non-humans are far more sensitive to tone than we are. We increasingly live in a world in which we can issue voice commands to objects and obtain an immediate result; Alexa, play Santana’s Abraxas. On Star, call Home. And when we use that tone of voice as, Satan, get your chew toy, we are speaking as if to an object, not to a remarkably sentient companion.

So that’s my message: Untrain yourself from the confines of seeing everything non-human as merely objects to be manipulated, often through force. That horse may one day kick you half way across the pasture; that dog may some day take a chunk out of you. If you treat them as objects they will tire of your abuse, and until you untrain yourself you may never know why.

But let’s hope you never have a need to earn the patch below.

What Are We Preparing For?

What Are We Preparing For?

by Br. Mark Dohle

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Most readers know I am not a deist. However, I have known Br. Mark, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk, for over 25 years. Of the many monks and nuns I have known in my lifetime Br. Mark stands out as one of the few who fully engage in candid and respectful dialogue with people of all perspectives. I hope readers will avail themselves of this opportunity to do so. All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. (Marco M. Pardi)

What are we preparing for?


Life is hard, though also filled with beauty, and wonder, and yes there is always hope. My eyes that look out upon the world today do not see the same things as I once did when I was a callow youth. I have lost a certain innocence as I aged, and I think that is a good addition, as long as it does not lead to bitterness or cynicism.

I actually like aging, even though there is a lot that goes with that. Deepening faith and a growing trust in God help me deal with the more uncomfortable realities of aging.

My body is not the same as it was when I was a young man and strong, in good shape, with little or no pain in my body. Now of course that has all changed. My ears don’t work like they used to, but I have hearing aids. My eyes need more attention as the years go by, and I can’t take for granted that every day I will be able to read easily. Fatigue is with me much of the time, some of it deep, making it hard for me to sit for more than ten minutes without falling asleep. All I need do is have a book in my hands, and my head will droop, and I doze off. Pain is a constant companion, though not usually over a 7, which I can handle without too much trouble. So in order to deal with that I guess I have developed what St. Paul calls “patient endurance”. I think this is what allows me to enjoy life perhaps even more than when I was young.

As we age, we come to realize that we are actually dying, albeit slowly. Sometimes when I am sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, the shortness of my future in this world comes across strongly, but not depressingly, but just a matter of fact. There is both relief and some fear in that thought.

Family members die, which is a great sorrow for me. Friends as well. Yet I find more peace in my later years than when I was younger.

About two weeks ago, as I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I got a strong inspiration that simply came across with this simple statement: “Just look to me”. I was surprised at the strength of the inner movement of my soul. It is true…..all we need to do is look to the Lord. The problem with simplicity is that it can actually be very difficult. The complex can be fun and challenging, but simple (?), well again, patient endurance is needed.

I have found that the more earthy concerns, that come from my thought process, often rooted in my far past, are simply one big circle that I run around in, with no way out. It traps me in my head and becomes more and more compulsive if I do not make an effort to stop the movie from running.

Fear comes for me, as anger, and anxiety when I start to try to do it all by myself. Grace draws me out of my intense ‘subjectivity’. Which is in reality a hellish experience.

It is grace that allows us to love others, forgive, and listen. Both to God, as well as to those around us. Love is the gateway out of our hellish inner lives when we get stuck with ourselves and our personal infallibility.

Each of us is the beloved of God. Sin flows from our fear of truth, pain, and just life. When we self-medicate we only get worse. To embrace life means to accept in faith that all that is, and happens, is somehow within God’s permissive will. I can’t figure myself out, so I have no doubt that the deep mysteries of life are also beyond my reach. However, the mystery is not unknowable, but eternally knowable. So one of the gifts of aging is that we do slowly learn to understand on a deeper level, and that is one of the many gifts of aging.

Pray, trust, love, and get through one day at a time.-Br.MD

Compassion

Compassion

by Br. Mark Dohle

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

I have known Br. Mark, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk, for over 25 years. Of the many monks and nuns I have known in my lifetime Br. Mark stands out as one of the few who fully engage in candid and respectful dialogue with people of all perspectives. I hope readers will avail themselves of this opportunity to do so. All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. (Marco M. Pardi)

Compassion

This is a conference that I am giving to give this morning to a large group of teachers. I had some very good interactions with some of the teachers I had when growing up in Panama. A few of them touched me deeply, and I feel that I would have turned out differently if not for them.

These are notes but will use them to help me keep on track. -Br.MD

—–Definition of compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.—–

I would like to start with the experience of meeting a very compassionate teacher a few years ago. Let’s call him Stan, in order to protect his privacy.

Stan worked at a school in Chicago that dealt with teenagers who came from homes that were in turmoil, to put it mildly. He would share with me his day-to-day interaction with these students. What struck me in a very powerful way, was the deep compassion that he had for these young people.

From one day to the next there was always some sort of ‘minor’ emergency going on and some serious issues that were in some cases, life-threatening, for some of the students.

He talked about failures, suicides, and trying to get through to the parents, who themselves came from very troubling family histories.

I am not sure all the teachers who worked in this school got as involved as Stan did. He has done this for years, has not burned out, and is a man of great faith.

What I experienced in Stan was the reality of the cost that compassion calls for.

Not everyone is called to the kind of service that Stan is, yet for most of us, we to, are called in many situations to be compassionate, instead of judgmental.

Stan was not a pushover. He did challenge his students, pushed them, and because of this, many were able to overcome their environment and move on to better lives. In some instances, it even helped the family towards healing as well.

Stan is not the only teacher I have met with this kind of Christ-like compassion, I have spoken to more than a few, and in all cases, I am amazed at their stamina in dealing with so much pain.

There is a price to be paid for being deeply compassionate. Choosing to become uncaring, and aloof, also has a heavy price to endure as well. In order to protect oneself from the sufferings, and struggles of others, a wall has to be built up, and the bricks for such a wall are the use of labels or stereotypes that lessen the humanity of others or take it away altogether. I do think this is a worse fate than the upward road that compassion takes us all on.

There is always an underbelly to all true gifts. When compassion becomes compulsive it suffers from thinking that they have to save, and make right, the lives that they come in contact with. This can lead to frustration, and burnout.

The healing aspect of compassion comes from the fact that the one being helped experiences a deep acceptance from the other that allows inner freedom to grow.

When I was a student, and I was not a good one, I also experienced compassion from some of my teachers. Some teachers lost patience with me, which was understandable, but it did not change me. Others seemed to see something in me that made me pause in wonder at what on earth they were seeing in me. I sort of agreed with the teachers that showed frustration, that I was not worth much. Though that was my subjective interpretation of their anger toward me. I doubt that was their intent.

Those who saw ‘something’ in me, did change me, they planted a seed that did not bear fruit until I was 19 or 20. It was then that my mind ignited and I thirsted for knowledge. I do believe that this happened in part because of the gentle acceptance of my slowness, yet at the same time, they encouraged me. If I never experienced that compassionate, loving acceptance, I doubt that I would have believed that I was capable of really learning, or becoming anyone worthwhile.

I do believe that all teachers have students they feel a deep connection with and help them in ways that they do not understand.

We learn from those we have compassion for. We deepen our understanding, not only through our own suffering and struggles but by seeing what everyone, I believe, goes through.

What makes it possible for us to be compassionate is the very commonality of the mystery of human suffering.

When I meet young people today, I do not see the stereotypes that are bandied about as true. Being a teenager was for me one of the most difficult times of my life. I can say this, even though my family life, for the most part, while chaotic, was not abusive. Today more than ever, our young people need mature adults to listen, encourage, and yes protect them from modern currents that can be destructive.

I have no doubt that all of you educators here have memories of teachers who saw something in you that you did not see in yourselves. Because of that, the seed of acceptance has born beautiful fruit.-Br.MD

Deception

Deception

Untold Stories of Tonio

by Marco M. Pardi

In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill

Oh. What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Marmion by Sir Walter Scott, Canto VI, XVII.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. Readers are encouraged to forward the site to anyone they wish.

Tonio was well aware of the image Hollywood and fiction writers drew of Clandestine Service Officers: consistent liars skulking about in oversized trenchcoats. But he also knew this image applied only to agents, people who had been seduced or accepted into betraying their country’s secrets. Case Officers, on the other hand, were intensively trained in blocking or misleading inquisitive individuals. Most embassy based COs knew their “cover” — Cultural Attache, Economic Development Advisor, etc., was transparent to any local really qualified to be recruited as an agent but they maintained the ruse anyway including such practices as using only a false first name, never allowing any information about their personal lives (if married they did not wear a wedding ring; if not married they might wear a borrowed ring even if it didn’t fit well), and never identifying where they live or other staff. This was different from outright lying, and Tonio welcomed the difference although he was never embassy based.

Tonio’s position as a NOC – Non Official Cover, meant he rarely if ever went near an embassy. Anything he needed from an embassy, such as weapons or most recent photos, was provided via dead drop or brush pass. Tonio strongly felt himself an actor, playing out a role created for him by the Division which provided NOCs with their legends, credentials, and other supportive information. All this material was carefully crafted to the NOC’s actual background and capabilities. Thus, people with degrees and experience in international banking, health and medicine, social sciences and college teaching, journalism, international business, or a myriad of other fields were placed in those fields sometimes with the knowing consent of the host and sometimes not.

Sabbaticals, business or academic conferences, medical programs and other opportunities for travel and absence were developed and provided and a NOC could alternate from field work to academia and back to vary his profile and avoid becoming moribund or too questionable. The NOC became that person. But having no official cover also meant that a mistake could leave him or her with absolutely no protection. And that was a key deterrent against lies.

Tonio viewed a lie, no matter how small, as a cancer cell, needing to be fed, growing ever more powerful and complex, and sooner or later exceeding his ability to control. Ultimately, he viewed lying as immoral; perhaps a surprising attitude in a profession thought by outsiders to be utterly amoral at best. But for Tonio, the mission came first, the person came second. In his mind, lying was something done for personal reasons and the resulting confusion of subsidiary lies and the additional burden of protecting the lies put the mission at risk.

Tonio was a strong adherent to the principle that: People never hear a word you say; they hear what they tell themselves you said. Further complicating this, many people fancy themselves able to read non-verbal cues. He knew that was not only foolish, it was useful, especially in a person schooled in producing those cues when needed. Tonio knew a skilled operator avoided lies; he knew a skilled operator only provided the context in which people deceived themselves.

——————————————————————————————————————-

The American people have an interesting history with the interplay of honesty and deception, especially in politics.In fairly recent history we can look back to President Richard Nixon and his secret seven day trip to China in 1972. Breaking a 25 year isolation from China, a declared enemy, the trip was prepared, also in secret, by Henry Kissinger and covered up with a variety of obfuscations from the White House. On Nixon’s return the trip was announced to the American people as a great success. Of course, China had long been supplying North Vietnam in its effort to take over South Vietnam and continued to do so. But the American people largely accepted the trip with a chuckle, considering it just another of Nixon’s “tricks”. In fact, his history had by then merited him the nickname “Tricky Dick”. One of my preferred bumper stickers of the era read, Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You.

But by that time Nixon had already become infamous for his “Southern Strategy”, a technique he developed while campaigning against Kennedy. Effectively, he played on the animus of Southerners toward desegregation and perceived cultural elitism. In doing so he unwittingly opened the floodgates for the strategies of division, deception, and outright hypocrisy which would one day bring a person like Donald J. Trump into the White House. Interestingly, Nixon’s greatest rival in his campaigns was a Southern bumpkin named George Wallace, a man who, if you now view his recorded speeches you will see prefigures Trump in almost every way. But it was another Southerner who ignited and tirelessly fed the flames of the resentment and hatred which now characterizes so much of American politics: Newt Gingrich. Throughout his political career he preached that Republican candidates should utterly destroy their opponents, using all available means including baseless stories and accusations, an early form of “conspiracy theories”. His tactics and strategies are now mainstream.

The Gingrich strategy was quickly adopted by Rush Limbaugh, a first semester college drop-out, whose talk radio program grew to 300 stations and 5 million listeners, many in “Rush Rooms”. Others include Sean Hannity, a drop-out from two universities, and Tucker Carlson, a B.A. graduate of Trinity College and listed member of the “Dan White Society” (White assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk) and whose application to the Central Intelligence Agency was denied are watched by millions per day. Hannity and Carlson dominate the airwaves throughout the United States.

Each of the above, and their several acolyte imitators, has learned that What you say is not as powerful as How you say it. Interesting examples of how the technique overtakes the facts appeared recently in the Letters to the Editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The contributor pointed to the incessant Right Wing mantras that Democrats want “open borders” while ignoring the fact of over two million arrests at the border so far under President Biden. As the writer said, if there were truth in the borders claim there would be ZERO arrests. Yet, the mantra is repeated constantly in political ads and Right Wing media. The other example given was that of Trump freely giving speeches to mass audiences in which he claimed Americans had lost their freedom of speech. No one seemed to catch the inherent contradiction; instead, they cheered wildly.

But, why? Why do so many people feel that something is wrong and it can only be fixed by an authoritarian take-over? Are they right, or are they deceived? Many years ago politicians on the campaign trail made famous the promise, “A chicken in every pot.” That seemed to work. Until the public aspired to a house in the suburbs, a car – then two cars in every driveway, the latest cellular phone, the biggest flat screen tv, and on and on while cheering the deception that all this and more can be achieved with little or no taxation and now with free education.

An acronym held dear among Case Officers in training is MICE. Money; Ideology; Compromise (you have something on a prospective agent recruit); Ego. With a little flexibility and patient insight one could determine the soft spot in an adversary’s defenses and turn him or her into an agent betraying their country’s secrets to you, even carrying out dangerous activities. But what accounts for the unrest which even now drives the throngs to an electoral failure, an unmasked pariah?

There’s an old saying, “The figures don’t lie but liars do figure.” What have we been told? How do we explain the rapidly growing disparity between the vanishingly few well-off and the growing masses of everyday Americans? Many people are resisting even controlled immigration and carefully vetted asylum on the grounds that these people are “taking American jobs.” Yet, when we ask the farmers and the construction managers – to name just a few, we find that they are crying out for the labor we are turning away, leaving us with either diminished products or products which, when harvested or produced by “Americans” (when we can cajole them into doing so) are astronomically more expensive as a consequence of “American” labor.

Behind all this is an ownership class which is increasing its financial wealth at rates almost impossible to accurately calculate. How are so many people led to believe this is the fault of immigrants and of people who are “other than” Right Wing Republicans?

Professional magicians have long used the attractive assistant to distract the eye while they work their sleight of hand. Looking at a broader picture in the United States, we see a well orchestrated groundswell of book banning in school and even public libraries. What’s more, the banned books are disproportionately written by minority authors. In a growing number of States parents are encouraging their K-12 children to inform on their teachers should the teacher mention, much less discuss, certain disapproved topics in class. This is already percolating up into post secondary education. I propose this is no coincidence. Tonio knew a skilled operator avoided lies; he knew a skilled operator only provided the context in which people deceived themselves.

Skilled operators know that by selectively narrowing the context from which to draw information people have much reduced chances of developing fully informed opinions. In recalling yet another age old saying, Knowledge is Power, we can at least realize, and perhaps develop and employ, the power that the cabal behind this rapidly changing national crisis fears the most. We can free ourselves from Deception.

Indifference

Indifference

by Marco M. Pardi

The know-nothings are less of a problem than the feel-nothings.” Anonymous

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw. The Devil’s Disciple.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment. Please forward this site to everyone of your choosing.

Do you know anyone who claims to be indifferent to current events and developments? Or, should I ask, How many people do you know who claim to be indifferent? Are you such a person? If so, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you won’t know what hit you; the bad news is you won’t know what hit you.

I know some people who, for various reasons, adopt an indifferent attitude toward most things going on around them. Some are data experts on sports, but struggle to name their U.S. Senators. Others claim to be too busy with “staying ahead of the game”, though I’ve not heard what that game is. But the ones that do irritate me are those that claim to be spiritually above the mundane concerns of temporal life. Seems to me they’ve conflated aloof with aloft. I’m tempted to say what I’ve heard said to people who criticize the U.S.: If you don’t like it here, leave.

Of course, the indifference phenomenon is nothing new. We will never know its incidence among prehistoric cultures simply because they didn’t record history. But we can safely surmise that certain principles have always held. We have found through experience that it is a rare individual who, no matter how well equipped, can simply march into the wilderness, never looking back, and survive long before dissolving into crippling mental illness. Among early religious hermits this was known as Divine Madness. But more common examples are found among people who simply do not bother to vote, even when there is nothing stopping them. Lately, a faction of the population claims, with zero evidence, that the system is rigged. Have they, people who apparently jumped for the out of reach grapes too many times, never read the fable?

The often myopic narrative presented in the U.S. as History of Western Civilization invests idolatrous value in the democracy of Classical Greece. It can only be supposed the craftsmen behind this Potemkin Village of Athenian democracy we call History are relying on students never being exposed to Greek literature of the time. The readers of this post probably bring Heraclitus to mind. An Ionian of a peculiar orientation of mysticism, Heraclitus was no friend of the common man. Saying, “The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them…” he espoused that only force would cause someone to act for their own good; “Every beast is driven to the pasture with blows…Asses would rather have straw than gold.” Well, I don’t know what use asses would have for gold but his point does speak to the pandemic of inertia we see on voting days. The United States has one of the lowest, if not the lowest voting participation recorded among democratic nations.

But is simply raising the vote count the answer? There is currently a movement to enact automatic voter registration, applicable when a person reaches their 18th birthday. Do you think every 18 year old is competent to vote? I don’t. In fact, like Heraclitus I can think of many people I consider incompetent to vote, especially since the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections “smoked them out”. Resistance to open voting is nothing new in this country. Alexander Hamilton, a “Founding Father”, adamantly wanted to restrict the vote to male landowners and some male owners of major businesses. In modern parlance, he wanted people who had “skin in the game”. That is, they were not indifferent to the outcome.

If you accept the premise that simply turning 18 is not a sufficient qualifier to empower one to vote, what qualifier, or qualifiers, would you stipulate? There are several potential problems with automatic voter registration, or any such registration for 18 year olds. Just out of high school (if they graduated, which many don’t), most are inclined to vote in conformance with their family’s voting history. Where do they get the news and pertinent analyses, if they get them? Facebook? Tic Toc?

Thanks to Fascist-née-Republican policies going back to the Joseph McCarthy era and before, K-12 education has been gutted and denatured to little beyond babysitting and care taking. Making this worse, since the Reagan administration the F/R party has been successfully infiltrating school and library boards nationwide, narrowing textbook and teacher selection/retention and lately enacting sweeping library book bans in schools and communities. Long before Reagan, I remember attending college classes in which instructors would not, and by their admission could not discuss certain topics. This has recently accelerated measurably. And, of course, most 18 year olds have had little experience in a rapidly changing world.

When the voting age was 21 I became eligible as I was nearing the end of the 4th year of my 6 year tenure in a Strategic Air Command Combat Squadron. I had been to and lived in three continents and several countries, as a civilian and as an airman. I had accumulated 2 years worth of college credit and various awards. Did I feel competent to opine on American domestic issues, environmental issues, financial issues? No.

Indifference is often applied to a variety of targets; Not My Problem is a commonly heard phrase. Yet history holds many examples of dreadful outcomes from that attitude. Athens in the 5th century BCE (Before the Common Era) reached its zenith of architectural and cultural development yet the aristocratic class ignored the growing disparity of wealth between itself and the hoi poloi, the common man. The result was the overthrow of the aristocracy and the abolishing of many schools. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia, and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China shared a common basis: the violent uprising of the uneducated and poorly educated poor against the educated aristocracy. Aristocracies which had ignored them and simply viewed them as unpleasant but necessary laborers. The problems of these lower classes were beneath consideration.

In Cambodia among the aristocratic targets for summary execution were people who wore eyeglasses. The presumption was that they could read, and therefore were oppressors of the common people. In China universities were burned and professors forced to renounce their learning or be murdered. In short, all these societies decapitated themselves.

I trust the reader’s mind has conjured images of January 6th, the infamous day when a mob different in dress from those above but deeply sharing their values stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol. The erection of a scaffold on the Capitol steps was an eerie image of the guillotine which dropped non-stop during the French Revolution. The scaffold was not built from scrap wood lying about and rope conveniently found nearby; it had been designed to be portable, easily transported to the site, and readily assembled. Hang Mike Pence! Was the chant. Malice aforethought is the legal term.

Many ideas purporting to explain the events of January 6th have been, and still are floating about. Some of them have merit, but the various factors they identify are secondary; they are interesting and varied numerators while the denominator goes unexamined. Perhaps because it comes too close to home. There is little to no mention of the apparent indifference which allowed the rise and the power of each of the factors, such as the proliferation of hate radio, cancerous metastasis of heavily armed “militias” throughout the United States, the unregulated development of a “Wild West” internet replete with lunatic conspiracy theories, the election of an utterly deceitful demagogue, the infiltration of the court system from local to federal levels, States paying cash bounties to people who spy on neighbors, friends, and even close family and report those who may be contemplating abortion, States opening criminal prosecution of those who assist a woman in going to another State for abortion, States opening criminal investigation of miscarriages and prosecuting medical providers who assist when there are potentially life threatening complications, Republican led States passing laws and enacting regulations which make voting access much harder for Democratic districts, Republican State office holders who promise to overturn 2024 election results if they favor Democrats, and ignoring the blatant developments in a major political party which mirror closely the rise of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism and, later, Hitler’s interpretation of Fascism.

All this was done in plain sight, in front of people who could not be bothered to look.

At my age one might say I can now be indifferent. Perhaps I should take the advise of Robert Regan, a Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, who said he would advise his daughters that if they were about to be raped they should “lie back and enjoy it.” After all, I lived through Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship, I can live through another one. While that may be true, it is also true I still “have skin in the game”, my living descendants. But while each of them is in the top ranks of their fields with very highly portable skills, a surrender of the United States to dictatorship would leave no safe place on this planet. I’ve often heard it said the United States gets the government it deserves. I might be indifferent to that but for the consequences to all other life on this planet.

An interesting slogan arose during the Vietnam war: If you are not saying NO, you’re saying YES.

Conflicted

Conflicted

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold stories of Tonio

Feelings are like kids — you can’t let them drive, but you can’t put them in the trunk.” As quoted on Best Friends Animal Society newsletter.

Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.”

Ancient Buddhist Apocrypha.

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As Tonio and Maartje waited for the televised evening news to appear they again saw the ad begging for donations to feed starving children in East Africa. Of course, there were the shots of skeletal children, too weak to react to the flies leaching moisture from their sunken eyes. Some of the children were likely weakened by diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of childhood mortality in much of the world. Other co-morbidities were likely worsened by severe malnutrition. Some of the children were likely already dead before the ad aired, or soon thereafter.

Although Tonio and Maartje were in remarkable physical condition, they had known hunger in periods of their childhood. And, Tonio had been in several parts of the world, seeing these now televised conditions first hand. He knew that many would not believe that pockets of hunger existed in many parts of the United States as well. Yet, one of his duties in Graduate School, in addition to teaching and on-site meetings with street gangs, had been to conduct on-site ethnography to develop an Ecology of the Inner-City Child. The locus of the study was the inner city of a large Mid-Western metropolis so crime ridden and dangerous the federal government dynamited the public housing projects to the ground just weeks after he finished.

During the months he spent there, sitting in on classes in K-8th grade schools, he saw the implementation of a school breakfast program for the children. What at first seemed like a marvelous idea soon soured as he checked the huge waste bins in the cafeterias. After each group of children left the bins were filled with uneaten foods, particularly excellent apples and other untouched materials. Cookies and other sweets were never in evidence. The bins were emptied daily into the garbage. He recounted this to Maartje as the ad finished. She muted the sound on the television.

Maartje was a fast, voracious reader with total comprehension and almost total recall. She was blazing through Tonio’s library faster than he could replenish it. And so, she well understood the variables behind food scarcity; things like war, drought, single crop economies formed by exploitative colonials, failure to control human population growth, and cultural preferences for some foods over others. She understood Tonio’s discussion of how Nixon’s illegal bombing campaign of neutral Laos and Cambodia, centered on the agricultural heartlands through which ran the Ho Chi Minh trail, had brought starvation to the Cambodians and Laotians, throwing them into the arms of the waiting North Vietnamese and Chinese. Nixon had brought about the very “Domino Theory” result everyone feared. Decades later much of that farmland is dangerous due to unexploded munitions, including cluster bombs and landmines.

She understood Tonio’s recollections of warlords appropriating foodstuffs and blocking the influx of regular agricultural trade. And the seduction of Central and South American countries into devoting their lands to single crops which the U.S. manipulated for lowest cost or abandoned when they could be found cheaper elsewhere.

Maartje, a master of facts and figures, recited what she had learned from recent surveys: According to PBS about 40% of the food produced in the U.S. either rots in the field, is trashed at the market, or thrown away at home. The typical American family of four wastes 1,160 pounds of food annually. The UNFAO -Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, estimates that, world wide, one-third of food produced for human consumption – 2.8 trillion pounds, is lost or wasted from farm to kitchen each year. Much of it is discarded before market because it is cosmetically not “pleasing”. This means about 55 billion cubic meters of fresh water are wasted to grow crops not eaten. Meat eaters worsen the water problem as it takes 20-50 times more water to produce a kilo of meat than a kilo of vegetable matter. She then enumerated the figures on federal subsidies to farmers and ranchers to not produce particular foods so as to keep the prices up. Yet, human population numbers continue to climb unchecked.

Tonio recalled that since the successful tele-scam artist Jerry Falwell and his Christian Right Moral Majority had completely bought control of the Republican Party every Republican administration since Reagan had ordered USAID- United States Agency for International Development- to withhold all money from any and all foreign health clinics that had so much as a table and chair devoted to Family Planning, specifically contraception and abortion. Any Foreign Service Officers found to have knowingly overlooked such services were terminated immediately. Thus, health and emergency medical services of all kinds were put in jeopardy or simply collapsed from loss of funding. Entire clinics were closed.

Why? Because the prevailing “religious” belief was that sexual intercourse was for procreation. But wait, there’s more, he said. The Republican Party is fundamentally parasitic. It realized it could use the cloak of religion to conceal its tactic of ensuring that developing nations could be forced into extractive compliance through carefully managed and enforced impoverishment. People barely able to feed themselves and their growing families were powerless to refuse the exploitation of agricultural production and precious metals mining at subsistence level reimbursement. Furthermore, keeping a nation at or barely above subsistence level while paying off its government officials ensured that the nation would be unable to develop programs similar to the Social Security, MediCare, or MediCaid, programs Republicans vilify as “socialist” and do all in their power to destroy. The results were obvious: the “Man on the Street” fathered many children as a safety net for when he and his wife became too old or too ill to work. With little to no organized health care infant and childhood mortality rates were gruesome. One could not chance having only one or two children trusting they would one day become working adults who could take care of them. Hence, the scattershot approach to family size, trusting some would get through.

And so, the conflict. Many countries were nearing a Malthusian equation of available nutrition levels governing population levels. But numbers on a spreadsheet are a far different image from skeletal children in person, or even on television. What kind of person can watch these ads on television and sit back saying, Let Nature take its course? The very same people who block corrective aid while intoning the word Socialism, a word intended to strike fear into the hearts of people fortunate enough to have their futures assured through investments in their company’s 401K stock market program. Yes, deregulate those industries to maximize profit no matter how many people die from the consequences.

Rushing to gather food otherwise wasted and supplying it to these populations would seem to be the right move. But all that does is address the immediate need. In the long run it may even make conditions worse as more people survive and go on to spawn more children. An entire restructuring of the economic system system in those countries is required. After all, the fundamental principle of economics is the production and distribution of goods, not the hoarding by some and the lack by many. The bottom line in economics is Access to Power. A couple who needs to ensure their future financial stability and care by raising enough children for some to mature and survive has no access to power.

It is true, as Maartje observed, that the mortality rate of infants and children had dropped tremendously during the latter 20th century and into the 21st. But still, every day an average of 15,000 children die, most from preventable causes. The number of child deaths is that of 24 jumbo jet crashes, with only children on board, every single day” (OurWorldInData.org). Worldwide, the rate is 4.5%. Pneumonia is the leading cause of childhood death, followed by diarrheal diseases and malaria. Each of these diseases, and several other significant causes of infant and child deaths, is worsened, perhaps fatally, by a common denominator: Malnutrition.

What to do, they asked each other. As individuals, we are powerless to do anything without risking that we would make matters worse.The world needs to take steps to assist the living, while at the same time taking major cultural steps to correct existing social and religious policies and to develop new policies which prevent the problem from just climbing to a higher level where the stakes are far more catastrophic, making the Malthusian theorem come true. Perhaps, one day, we can write about it.

UMBRA

UMBRA

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

Only the spoon knows the pot’s sorrows.” Corsican proverb, quoted by Daniel Silva

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In mid-summer of 1982 Tonio sat comfortably behind his desk, a Beretta 92A1 in the central drawer before him and his full spectrum Short Wave Telefunken receiver tuned to a British classical station nearby. Over a year had passed since he left his previous career and dropped from sight. Now the owner of a fine art and rare book store he had bought outright as a visible source of income, he enjoyed the leisure of dealing with mostly normal people, though each likely had stories to tell if given the chance. His previous work had provided free time, numerous breaks during the calendar year and the choice of entire summers off. But sudden absences could produce serious problems. And he was prone to sudden absences. Now, when that need arose, Maartje, his partner in every way would step in and run the store. The most recent such event had quickly followed a sudden drop-in visit from a MOSSAD colleague he had not seen in years.

As the birthday of his only child drew near Tonio mused over how different things would have been had he stayed married to his ex-wife. A woman, “white-blonde” from head to foot with ice water eyes, she seemed to disappear in bright sunlight. Not particularly given to romance, and having several candidates to choose from, most especially a wonderful young woman in England, Tonio had chosen to engage in marriage with her at least partly because he felt her family background prepared her to understand and accept his primary vocation and all that went with it. Her father, deceased before Tonio could meet him, had been a clandestine officer with the Swedish Security Service, Rikspolisstyrelsens säkerhetsavdelning, orRPS/Säk. (In 1989 it became Säkerhetspolisen, or SAPO.) Tonio had often shuttled from Sweden to Norway, her family having branched out generations previously.

Keeping secrets came naturally to Tonio. As a child he was clearly excluded from family discussions. In each of the six schools he attended to complete his first 12 years of education he was judged far more by his physique than by his mind. So, he developed his own internal community: the 1950’s radio programs The Shadow and Tarzan were favorites. He could live within them. But the television program Ozzie and Harriet, a series about a close knit family, shut him out completely. He had no way to understand it.

That background likely formed him into a ”natural” for the clandestine world. But it also made him privately recoil in disgust when people pressed him to ”share” himself with them. At the same time he rejected, as much as possible, any temptation to create a false persona that would satisfy others. When he could, he simply cut off connections with people who persisted. But in time his life experiences, perception, intellect, and ”spooky” memory flowered into a personality with many petals, allowing him to quickly assess what would please others and to grant them some time with a petal or two. Thus, satisfied that they knew him, they left him in peace. And always, he watched them from behind a veil.

However much he may have seemed suited for the clandestine world, he was himself convinced of some drawbacks. He felt he was not enough of a subject matter or area expert to function well as a headquarters based analyst. And, as with his military experience, he did not want to commute to work and sit behind a desk. The other choice was the better known embassy based case officer role. And here he knew he simply could not long tolerate seducing and subverting people into betraying their own countries. He discussed these concerns with a close friend, a retired former Chief of Station and executive rank officer. Thus, over ten years ago it turned out there might be a solution. And, of course, it called for a sudden absence. That time, however, to a section of Washington D.C.

Three days and two nights as a guest in a senior agency executive’s historic North Georgetown home brought Tonio into a new world, one which had nothing to do with paneled libraries filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves, thick Persian and Afghan rugs, and meals stretching for hours. No, nothing had changed in this new world except the rules which had been assumed to protect even American citizens from ”executive action”. Tonio’s passport into this world was his well documented military and agency history and the vetting done quietly for an undisclosed number of months.

Contrary to their Hollywood image, intelligence officers are under orders to fully report, in detail, any and all intimate contacts, even approaches. Failure to do so usually results in immediate termination of the officer. And, the contact is quietly investigated. Officers considered to be unduly sexually active are immediately dismissed from service. One is left living like a monk. On the other hand, certain departments in the intelligence community have the highest divorce rates in government service.

Of necessity, the vetting had later included Maartje when she came into his life. There were some concerns about Maartje, but the arrangement could proceed so long as Tonio strictly adhered to the principle of ”right and need” to know.

But Tonio was not a person who could let matters stand. He had soon realized that Maartje was the only person with whom he could open his mind and his heart and discuss anything. Her knowledge was encyclopedic, but her understanding was deeper and broader than could be put into volumes, no matter the number. She ”saw” him, as no one else ever had. And so, he never doubted that she knew what he was, what he did, and likely how he felt about it. Committed to each other more deeply than official papers or metal rings could ever bring them, she had the right to know, but not the need to know. Oh, yes, there were issues of her future should he not return from a trip, or return too disabled to continue working. But arrangements were made for her continued financial security, and she was a powerful artist fully capable of returning to a solitary life. She also displayed the potential to fill any void left by Tonio.

Nonetheless, Tonio wondered about people who entered into ”sacred” matrimonial relationships, exchanging ritualized vows often with little to no idea of how and when those vows would be tested. He had been to several weddings, and had never seen an exchange of vows in which one or both partners had fingers crossed behind their backs. But he was convinced there was always a shadow over the couple, if for no other reason than ignorance on the part of each as to what one or the other may be susceptible to, or capable of. He was not a ”trusting soul”. The famous author Jorge Luis Borges once said, ”To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god”.

Tonio felt that what he and Maartje had was beyond mere love; it was discovery, the discovery that they had always been one, no matter what they had lived through, who they had lived with, or who they may have thought they were. Those were only details, petals fallen from the bloom. Severe laws kept Tonio from discussing details with Maartje; a breath taking depth of understanding kept her from asking.

Another day was ending. Evening would be spent considering birthday presents for his child. And, of course, steady viewing of BBC favorites on television. That is, unless the secure phone rang.

Destino

Destino

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

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A cool Autumn wind blew leaves among the sparsely occupied tables at the outdoor cafe. Two blocks from the university, it was across the street from the tavern most favored by students, and the pretenders always found hanging on. Though he rejected picking favorites, Tonio liked this time of year best. Gaia was slowly closing her robes, beckoning her family to come within. It was also hunting season, when buffoons in their costumes hoped their guns would bolster their fading masculinity. Tonio hated hunting; but for him hunting season was year round. Knowing the character of his prey, he waited to see him arrive and mingle among the gathering evening crowd across the street.

His server, a fairly attractive girl who looked more like she belonged at the tavern, had apparently assumed, from the labeled notebook atop his table, that he was open to conversation. She introduced herself as the daughter of the proprietor and that she had a street view apartment above the cafe. All in textbook English. Red flag. But then, in a university town, maybe not.

Alone for the moment, he entertained his discomfort with certain aspects of his specialty: Problem solver? Fixer? Tourist? As the server attended another table he thought about the times he had used people for purposes they never knew and probably would not have agreed to. Had any of them come to grief? Well, yes, but he told himself it was not his intention. In the cards, so to speak.

But what about those people he didn’t select, but came anyway? Those people who seemed to appear and disappear, seemingly without consequence but later proving to have been pivotal to the unfolding of what appeared to be a plan far too complex for his own making. Maybe he was guilty of ego-centrism, seeing things only from his perspective and not realizing he had played a part, the importance of which he would never know, in the unfolding of their plan. How many times had he himself been a tiny wheel within a wheel within a wheel inside the kinetic unfolding of someone else’s life? And how many people were even aware there was a plan, if there was one? Are we all just sub atomic particles/waves blinking in and out of existence in a cosmic chaos? Is it possible to throw a cork into a bubbling creek and mathematically predict and chart every bob and sink and twist? For Tonio the word “random” was just a cheap cop-out, a way of pedantically saying, “I dunno”. The school of strict Determinism would say, Yes, we can predict and chart the cork, given enough information. This, of course, is anathema to at least two camps: The religious folks are determined (pun intended) to cast us as completely free in our choices, thus leaving us open to the charge of sin and guilt, for which we can pay the church to absolve us; and, the people who see Humankind as separate from and superior to all the rest of Nature and who seek to uphold free will as a hallmark of evolution, proof we have risen above savage beasts and dumb animals ruled by instinct alone. Many geneticists and ethologists would hasten to disagree with that view of non-humans. And many of the religious folks seem to have forgotten or ignored their own literature. For example, Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Of course, one question the religious folks never answer is how one reconciles a belief in an omniscient god, knowing everything past, present and future, with a creature such as Man having Free Will.

But Tonio, while aware of subtle details in his surroundings, was judicious about his intake and analysis of information. His occupation channeled him into a pattern of thinking in ultimates; he would either survive or he wouldn’t, his target would either survive or not. Yes, each operation had to be calculated precisely and that principled habit carried over into the mundane passage of daily life. That principle also drove his insistence on not knowing much about the reason(s) he was dispatched to resolve certain problems. He did not want to slip into the morass of second guessing, devising alternatives which might cause him to hesitate. Nor did he want to allow the assignment to become personal, arousing feelings he would have to deal with. Either could be fatal, quickly or in the long run.

Tonio felt he had arrived at that principle in his youth. Very often engaged in fights with boys older and larger than himself he learned awareness of every part of his body, its position, its potential for action in any circumstance. This served him well when, in military unarmed combat training he allowed a much larger mixed martial arts instructor to seize him in a neck grip from behind. In under a minute he gripped the man’s arm, tucked his own legs, threw the instructor over him, and applied a “sleeper hold” to the man’s carotid and jugular, rendering him unconscious. A second instructor, in a panic, attacked him. Helping the second man find rest took an entire minute. The supervisor of that section asked him to stay at the facility as an instructor, but he respectfully declined, citing a desire to go where the real action was. The same scene played out in firearms training as Tonio registered “Above Expert” with every foreign and domestic one-man firearm and turned down an instructor position. Tonio was an angry young man, but did not fully realize it.

Having been to the funerals of several young people Tonio had often heard the trite saying, Taken before his time. He thought that utterly illogical. To him it was a presumption of a preordained time frame, a frame others could read and judge. And who made this frame? He was also disgusted by terminally ill people who bankrupted their families getting prolonged treatments and medicines so they could hang on a few more days or weeks. The consequences of obtaining a short and probably miserable reprieve for oneself could impose serious, even crippling determinants on the family perhaps for more than just the current generation. Housing, nutrition, education curtailed or lost so Pop could suck oxygen and piss himself a while longer.

His mind drifted to motives as he returned his attention to business. Why would someone successfully employed in an agency dedicated to the preservation of peace go rogue and provide catastrophic information and resources to a manifestly hostile power? The acronym inside the agency for such motivation was MICE: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. As Tonio saw it, each of those four concepts was a focal point behind which lay a forest of determinants. Well, the CI (Counter-Intelligence) Division would figure that out.

As the evening darkened and the crowd across the street swelled Tonio spotted his prey, accompanied by a single escort, heading into the tavern. He was glad to see the man was wearing a waist length cardigan. Tonio would circulate among the jostling crowd, a thick fountain pen holding a pneumatic charge and a proven pellet of a lethal substance for which there was no antidote was among the other pens in Tonio’s shirt pocket protector. Milling around the bar, Tonio would bump against the target’s back, zap him high on his buttocks, and melt into the crowd. The pen would go down the first sewer Tonio came to. Death would be certain within 48 hours, possibly 24. By that time Tonio would be somewhere in Scandinavia.

He casually finished his meal and paid his check, along with an extra large tip. As he rose to leave he turned to the server, who was looking pensively at him. “Perhaps I’ll see you later, or certainly tomorrow”, he said. She smiled rather doubtfully and Tonio had a very odd feeling. It felt like sympathy for the girl who, night after night, could only stand, invisibly, as her peers frolicked in clear view. Must have been something in the food, he told himself and turned to leave.

Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust

by Marco M. Pardi

“……all my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity, dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind…..” penned byKerry Livgren, American band Kansas.

What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live….?” sung byDionne Warwick, the film, Alfie.

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Today we see the initial pictures taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Of course, like so many around the world I am enthralled. Astronomers are now able to peer back, albeit through tiny windows opening onto the universe, 13.7 billion years ago. Perhaps the ancient Greeks were right, in a way. They commonly thought the sky was a perforated dome through which, at night, light shone through in points from an outside dimension. Perhaps that dome is the limit of our technology and as we penetrate it with our James Webb telescope and other vehicles we peek into the dimension we call Time. The “Big Bang” is thought to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

The Cosmos is a violent place. Stars and planets are born and perish in spectacular explosions and collisions, spawning massive dust clouds. The photographic images show thousands of swirling points of light, each a galaxy like our own and only a few of the trillions of such galaxies out there. Most of us have seen computerized images of our Milky Way galaxy. Earth is an almost imperceptible dot on the outer fringe. Yet, everything on this planet is stardust in one form or another. Oh, we recombine things and call them man-made. Cute. Kids in the sandbox.

I thought back to my first experiences with star gazing, years before I lay on the Sahara Desert watching the early Soviet and American satellites sweeping overhead. I remembered the deep in the core excitement I felt with my first exposure to literature, in primary school, telling of intelligent life on other planets. I avidly read all I could, yearning to go to such places, to live there. Not well connected to human life, I assumed anywhere was better and would feel like my true home.

But then, as I expanded my reading to include the blooming of popular science literature dealing with the “reality” of such ambitions I discovered that many of the stars seen by our telescopes of the day were many light-years away. As understanding dawned, I realized some of what I was seeing might not even still exist, at least not in the form it was then appearing to me. Which meant that any intelligent life on planets orbiting those stars would likely never know of me, nor I of it. That realization brought me back to Earth.

Looked at from two perspectives, longitudinal and latitudinal, the depth and breadth of human life is as staggering as the sparkling panorama of the desert night sky with stars too numerous to count circled by untold numbers of planets. But only those stars a young man could see. A historian could greatly extend my knowledge of the longitudinal human cosmos, but only for those societies who recorded history. And only for those very few people who, like the galaxies in the Webb pictures, made it into the history books. An anthropologist could open the human cosmos indefinitely in both dimensions, longitudinal and latitudinal. But why bother?

I began getting answers in the 1960’s. While still in the military I enrolled in a spread of college courses and found myself most drawn to Anthropology. Contrary to the common trope at the time, that students who majored in Anthropology were alienated and looking for a home, I was alienated and not looking for a home. I had already concluded I would never find one. Through reading a variety of the finest science fiction I had come to realize that humanoid societies, no matter the planet, most likely had internal issues similar to what I already knew in ours. And, more to the point, were I to be in some alien planet society I could not “know” it as alien and survive. I would be living just as I am now, a “natural” member of the society with no consciousness of anything different. So, where’s the gain?

Another common trope was that students of Anthropology were “do-gooders” who, out of their love for all Mankind, wanted to travel the world spreading love and joy. I won’t grace that with much comment, except to say, Heard of the Peace Corps? Oh, for a few years I did study parasitic diseases. I don’t recall ever loving any.

Returning to the Cosmos as metaphor for human society, the longitudinal view brings us history books filled with the thousands of persons who have given rise to our modern world. But history is a tiny part of our past. Several of the early forms of prehistoric Man had brains the same size and general morphology as ours. There is no justification for the view of “caveman as unthinking brute”. And, while the numbers were low in harsher environments, evidence supports positions such as that of Jared Diamond who posits populations in the millions in Pre-Columbian North and South America.

A central lesson permeating through history is that human populations have a signature tendency to wipe each other out, through armed conflict, transfer of disease, or absorption of one by the other. A cosmic and ongoing conflict of the flesh. Diamond and others claim that European introduced smallpox and other diseases killed millions of the people living in the Americas on their arrival. Interestingly, many of these native cultures practiced “sky burial”; exposure of the corpse on an elevated platform for carrion eating birds to consume. The bones were left to become dust.

Of course, reasonably educated readers are well familiar with the history of wars, the slaughter of whole populations, the starvation of others through destruction of food resources or access to food and water, diseases spread by mobile armies, and the many examples of genocide. In that context I found the following excerpt illustrative:

Between 1936 and 1938 the Soviet Union arrested 1,548,366 people. They were accused of disloyalty, espionage, sabotage, or counterrevolution. Most were innocent. But 681,692 were executed. Of those who were not killed, most were sent to severe labor camps, known as the “gulags”. Stalin reportedly said, while signing execution lists, “Who is going to remember this riff-raff in ten, twenty years? No one.” (biography of AGENT SONYA. Ben Macintyre).

In my library I have the names of dozens of those 681,692 people. One day even their names will be dust. By the way, Stalin was not a name. It was a title, “Man of Steel”. His name was, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. Similarly, Josip Broz – “Tito”, dictator of what was then called Yugoslavia, was called Tito because of his habit of saying, “Do it!” for any suggestion or idea he liked. In Serbo-Croatian Tito means “do it”. The world knows him as Tito. Another amusing figure was “U. Thant”, a Burmese who rose to become Secretary General of the United Nations. Amusing because in Burma people commonly use one name and in Burmese U is an honorific, such as English speakers would use Mister. So, introducing Mr. U. Thant is introducing Mr. Mr. Thant. Ah, well. Who cares, right?

Life can easily begin to look pointless. And, before I became a father and grandfather that view was hard to defeat. But look, what if my descendants choose to not have descendants? What if I can see the end of the line right now? Looking at the present and developing situations in and on the planet right now, would you encourage your descendants to “go forth and multiply”? Seriously, would you?

Almost certainly someone will raise the concept of Posterity. Assuming a planet killer asteroid is not speeding our way just now, Posterity does deserve some thought. How deeply should we care about people we will never see, or even know about? My greatest concerns are for the innocent victims of humankind’s stupidity: the non-human life on this planet. In doing what I can for them I likely will contribute to conditions which also benefit humans. But I continue to support, financially and otherwise, a couple of dozen or more non-human animal shelters, sanctuaries, rescue groups, and environmental organizations, even if humans derive some benefit.

I’ve had this website for several years, and have posted about 300 entries of my own and a few from willing contributors. At times it has been read in countries around the world. I know that because the software tells me what country a reader is in. Only that. Nothing more. The number of reads far exceeds the number of people who are kind enough to comment. Disappointing. But hey, welcome to life in the big city. What will happen to all this material once I go behind Door Number Four? I don’t know.

Over many years and for various reasons I was quite active transmitting over various kinds of radios. As a kid I learned that radio transmissions “go on forever”. So, somewhere in that cacophonous universe someone may be listening and trying to figure out how a lunatic got hold of a microphone. But for here and now this is my soapbox.

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